Mark Votapek: Principal Cello

Question & Answer

How did you choose your instrument?

My parents tell me that I chose to play the cello at age 7, but I am skeptical about that. I think at age 7 I would have chosen to play the trumpet or the drums.

When was the career of music chosen?

All of my family members are professional musicians, so I just assumed that I would also be a professional musician too. Halfway through college, I wasn’t sure that I was doing the right thing, so I tried to do something different and studied English Education. When I found myself practicing cello as a way of procrastinating my English studies, combined with the fact that my English story topics always seemed to be about music, I realized that the cello really was what I wanted to do with my life.

What is your earliest musical memory?

My father performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 with the Chicago Symphony while my siblings and I sat backstage with coloring books.

Where are you originally from?

East Lansing, Michigan born and raised. Go Green!

Who were your major teachers?

I had a wealth of positive musical influences ranging from early teachers and family to chamber music coaches and teachers of other instruments. But, the biggest influence on my physical approach to cello was Janos Starker, with whom I studied at Indiana University. His genius for troubleshooting and solving physical impediments to one’s playing was unmatched.

Work history?

I was the Principal Cellist of the Sacramento Symphony for two years, for the Oregon Symphony for three years, and the Associate Principal of the St. Louis Symphony for five years. I was also with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra for four years, which also overlapped with my eight years teaching at the University of Arizona. Currently, when not in Hawaii, I’m active with several of the major groups in San Francisco.

What is your favorite Hawaii Symphony Moment?

It’s hard to narrow this down at the moment. Can I pass on this? Use one of my lifelines? I’m going to have to think about this one for awhile.

Best part about being an orchestral musician in the HSO?

The symphonic repertoire has to be one of the greatest achievements of mankind, and in the HSO, we get to continue this tradition.

What would you consider to be the perfect classical concert program?

There are too many permutations to corner into one, perfect program. I’d always be happy playing Mahler and calling it a night. Then again, accompanying any great piano concerti is just as satisfying but not nearly as challenging. If I were a programming planning committee of one. . .I would probably choose an old and underplayed overture like Rossini’s Semiramide (which the HSO did last season!), followed by a Brahms piano concerto, and complete the program with something grand like Alpensinfoni. Or, I would begin with a Mozart Concerto and Brahms’ Alto Rhapsodie, followed by Strauss’s Rosenkavlier Suite and Strauss’s Sprach Zarathustra. Those are just the obvious choices, not counting the contemporary pieces. I could make this answer go on forever!

What’s best about living in Hawaii?

Where else is there such great inland hiking right next to great snorkeling and diving? But, seriously. . .poke and mai tais.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I’ve watched about 2/3 of the San Francisco Giants games on television this year, often with a beer or two.

What famous figure, living or dead, would you most like to invite to dinner, and why?

There’s much to be said for the strategy of inviting Christophe Congé from Chateau Lafite Rothscild, or maybe even the actress from the AT&T commercials. But, if pressed, I would forgo the famous figures entirely. I’ve lived in so many different places that unfortunately I’ve lost touch with some clsoe friends who mean a lot to me. I would invite them instead.


More About Mark Votapek

In 2015-2016, Mark Votapek rejoined the Hawaii Symphony after a much too long 6-year absence from the islands.  He has been a member of the Maui-based Ebb and Flow Arts contemporary ensemble and Oahu’s Pacific Concert Artists International.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, he can be heard performing with Musica Marin, Ensemble San Francisco, at UCSF, and with the San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Symphony, and orchestras throughout the region.  Formerly a professor at University of Arizona and the Interlochen Arts Center, he continues private teaching and coaching for the San Francisco Academy Orchestra and summer teaching and performances with the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival.

Votapek has gained renown for combining music with the outdoors. He completed a 27-performance recital tour from Mexico to Canada, backpacking the entire 2700-mile  Pacific Crest Trail from concert to concert. In 2015, he performed at the Moab Music Festival, including on a multi-day Colorado River raft trip, performing in natural grottos, amphitheaters, on the rafts themselves, and shooting Class V rapids, though not simultaneously.

His previous posts as Principal Cellist of the Oregon Symphony and as Associate Principal Cello of the Saint Louis Symphony, and residencies at varied festivals, joined him with some of the world’s finest musicians and natural lands. He performed a duo with Sarah Chang at Aspen and climbed Mt. Elbert the following day, immediately followed by performances at the Olympic Music Festival and a climb of Mt. Rainier.

Votapek’s concerts have been aired numerous times on NPR stations across the United States, and his performance of Schelomo was featured on Performance Today.